It’s Plausible

My mom and I saw the movie “Ready Player One” today and while it was by no means the best movie ever, we both agreed it was pretty good. We had some laughs and some jumps and were forced to think a little which are all respectable things for a movie to make you feel.

If you haven’t heard of this movie, it is essentially a dystopian story about virtual reality. Imagine 2045 where the world is run down and piled high with trash and poverty and whole trailer parks stacked on top of each other. The quality of life is so poor that practically everyone spends most of their time in the virtual reality world of the Oasis where you can do anything and everything and life is like a game. However, when the game creator dies he sets out a challenge for one lucky winner to inherit his share of the company and control of the game, then all of a sudden this becomes a business endeavour. It’s a fight between big business and the people for who will take control of this central part of everyone’s life.

Like I said, the movie itself got pretty cheesy sometimes and wasn’t the most advanced plot development, but the concept of the movie was what was really intriguing. It’s a very plausible scenario when you think about it. With the rate virtual reality is being popularized and the rate in which we’re polluting the Earth, just how far-fetched is it to imagine a world where people are having their time consumed by “living” in a virtual world? It’s kind of scary how some of these dystopian stories become more and more realistic and possible futures every day.

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One Night Only

Today my sister said, “You’re twenty and thriving,” and I was very quick to correct her in that I’m only 19. However, to her point today has been a very adulty day.

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It started out with me attending the SPARK event hosted by Innovation Diploma students. This event was two hours of design thinking fun getting to brainstorm ideas for Chris Hellmann, Global Vice President and General Manager of the Coca-Cola Freestyle division. It’s a little odd to be a “guest” now, though it was particularly funny today because I had one of those moments of realizing just how well I was trained because it was easy to kind of slip a little into facilitation mode to help push my table to think deeper about the problem.

Then immediately after SPARK I hoped on Marta and headed to the airport. I’m currently safely in DC, not running away from finals, but instead, I was flown here for a gathering of Education Reimagined community members. Tonight was just a welcome dinner, but tomorrow we’re working for the better part of the day brainstorming the core components of an idea for a nationwide event around celebrating innovative learning!

I’m still just so thrilled to have been one of the few invited to this meeting and can’t way to see where tomorrow takes us. Right now, truly anything is possible because the idea is still in its infancy and I’m really excited to get to expand upon my leadership skills by helping with the originating of a nationwide project.

I’m one of I think six young learners who will be in attendance and I got to talk with four of the five tonight at dinner which is always fun. We were all talking about how crazy it seems to be flying to another state just for one night to have a meeting. It feels so “real-world” business-like and it just makes me even more grateful for the incredible high school experience I was able to have which lead me to be involved in this community.

I’m actually super happy the SPARK event was earlier today because it was such a nice reminder of how far I’ve come by getting to work with ID kids this morning partnering with the local community and then getting to fly out to DC to work with a national community.

It doesn’t seem particularly out of the ordinary to be on this one night adventure, even though I’ve not done this before, it just seems like the inevitable because I was taught to dream big, network, and take advantage of opportunities.

Another 100 Days…

I feel like I’ve been in a sad rut of writer’s block all year. Since starting college I have written 12 blog posts.

Only 12- that’s less than I wrote in 2 weeks back when I first started this blog.

I haven’t been blocked off mentally. I’ve had plenty of times where I’ll be lying in bed or walking to class where I start thinking and realize, “man this would be a great blog post.” But then I never get around to actually typing it out. So I suppose you could say I have “writing block” oppose to “writer’s block.”

I know I should write, but…

I keep making excuses for myself like “oh it’s too late,” or “oh I have homework,” or “oh I’ve done so much work today and now I just want to watch TV and have a mental break.” Some of the time these reasons are valid, but in reality, I know that most of the time I finish my homework early, and I go to bed late anyway doing less worthy things, and I’ve probably watched more online than I ever did in high school.

Maybe it’s been a fear of not having anything good enough to post or a fear of getting too ranty seeing as this year I’ve had a lot of new rants upon entering a whole new world of education bugs in higher ed. I’m not sure exactly what’s kept me from blogging besides a bunch of lame excuses when it boils down to it.

I started this blog heading into my sophomore year of high school with no clue what I was going to write about, but with the understanding that I would write about whatever just for the sake of. Somewhere along the way, I started discovering my passion for transformative education and my blog became more focused. I’m grateful for this discovery, though I think I’ve been stuck with this idea now that it’s only when I’m doing/thinking about something very related to this passion that it’s worth me taking the time to blog.

Well now, this has become a problem in my opinion, and not only in regards to my blog.

I’ve officially decided to start writing the book that some know I’ve been talking about for three years now. It’s going to be about why the education system needs to be transformed as told through a student’s narrative-including some of the stories we don’t always like to talk about. At this point, I’ve made an outline and an intro, but I’ve been stuck when it comes to actually starting to write the book. All of the thoughts are there, but I can’t seem to take the time to get them down.

I want to change this streak of “writing block”, so this is my way of trying to get back into the groove of writing: taking my own advice.

Back when I started blogging I was told that my overall writing got better, and when I finished my 100 days in a row, I found that I actually enjoyed writing and needed to keep writing. People would ask how I did it and say that they feel like they never have anything “good enough” to write about. My advice was always “Just write about whatever, don’t worry about what other people think, just start writing.”

I didn’t start blogging because I felt I had anything profound to say that society needed to read. I started because I gave myself the challenge to better my observation and writing skills by blogging for a 100 days in a row and just seeing how it went.

I want to get back to that time when the writing just flowed naturally. And it seems kind of fitting that now as I’m about to start the summer before my sophomore year of college, that I go back to my roots and try to write just for the sake of writing again. Who knows, maybe a few gems will come out of it.

Here’s to another 100 days…

We Need More Magic

I’m currently about halfway through my week of adventures in Italy with 7 members of my family, and so far it’s been a world wind of emotions. Yesterday though was particularly interesting because my aunt and I met up with the mom of a friend she made while at an artist retreat in the jungle. We had never met this woman before, and needless to say, it was a very random connection in which we had no idea what to expect, but we had a great time!

We grabbed some gelato and took a pit stops at the local market to get some food, and then we went back to her incredible apartment overlooking the river and ate some lunch while discussing life. It turns out that she is a native English woman who is semi-accidentally became a homeschool teacher who has lived all over the world and only recently moved to Rome. I say semi-accidentally because she started out homeschooling her own children and then, due to happy circumstances and a willingness to take risks and seize opportunities, she started a whole homeschooling meets tutoring business. Kids who speak all sorts of languages will work with her for various amounts of time to help with getting ready for going to English school by exploring Rome and making personalized “classes” relevant to the lives of these children.

She was speaking all sorts of learner-centered language and it was honestly just crazy awesome to me that even though we live on different sides of the world we had such similar opinions and ideas about the education system; there is truly a universal language around transformative education that is developing!

As perhaps one may guess, we had some very interesting conversations about education. Particularly, I loved how we talked about the necessity of incorporating magic and fantasy into education.

Think about it: the world around us is full of magic- things we can’t see or fully explain but know that they exist- like gravity, types of lights, dark matter, etc. Now some things may just not exist, but letting ourselves believe in magic helps to teach us to be imaginative and push the boundaries of what is real and strive to make the impossible possible. Once upon a time airplanes seemed like a magical fantasy, and look at us now exploring what it might look like for humans to live on Mars! We have to teach kids to dream and believe what they can’t see if we truly want them to be innovators and be willing to conceptualize what we believe is true about the world. So why don’t we talk about magic more often in school? Especially beyond elementary school! Plus in my mind it’s such a great way to bridge the gap between humanities and stem courses; reading about magic and discussing what science the magical concepts were based around and then imagined further sounds like a fabulous integrated project.

With this discussion, we talked about a wonder of ours: are we teaching sciences to the wrong age groups? Physics is crazy! Nano-science, space, light and sound, etc, there are so many things that can be kind of hard to imagine existing when we can’t really see them nor do we know everything about how they work, but it’s young children that typically have the greatest bandwidth for believing in the unknown. What if we spent more time exploring big science concepts like dark matter to elementary schoolers, and in high school, we spent more time continuing to foster the ability to imagine, dream, and believe in seemingly crazy possibilities?

Valued Learning Memories

Background

I am officially a week into my second semester of college. It’s truly a crazy thought to think that I’m theoretically an eighth of the way finished with undergrad already.

Ever since the end of my first semester in college, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Specifically, I started thinking about what things during high school most prepared me for my first semester in college. I was pondering what learning moments most stood out to me over those four years of my life, and not just specific to moments of learning actually during “school hours.” Then, I thought it would be really interesting to learn about what other members of my graduating class from Mount Vernon would include on their personal learning moment list. Thus began my mini research project.

I asked several other MVPS graduates of the class of 2017 to create their own list of memorable learning moments and send them to me. I received 12 responses (other than my own which are featured in the above image) and have spent a few hours comparing the results searching for trends in terms of actual events, skills learned, and ideas/concepts considered and am now excited to share what I found.

Defining My Purpose

Now before I begin to explain my findings, I must add the disclaimer that I know that obviously, this is a small sample size. Furthermore, while I tried to reach out to a semi-diverse group, there’s something to be said about the fact that these were all still students who were actually willing to respond to a random request from a former classmate of theirs even if they hadn’t talked to her in months in some cases. Finally, I must note that I acknowledge that every author has a bias, and I’m sure trends and conclusions that I noticed may have not been the same as others, but as much as I would’ve liked to discuss the responses with someone else, that was not the case this time.

Because of this bias, my conclusions about trends noticed can’t reasonably be said to apply to all 2017 MVPS graduates, but I still find them interesting for the sake of my little curiosity project. While I plan to include some of my own thoughts, I want to also clarify that my purpose of this post isn’t to convince anyone of anything; I simply want to show some student perspective about what, after a semester into college, stands out as memorable and useful learning moments from high school. 

Trends

Trends in Events

Trends in events I define as the actual moments that people recalled learning something from that they found important enough to add to their list.

Top 5 Noted Events:

  1. iProject/Innovation Diploma
  2. Community/Team Work
  3. Extracurriculars (Sports and Arts related in particular)
  4. Travel
  5. Service

One of the most interesting things I noticed was that as much as students may have complained about iProject, the semester or year-long passion project all high schoolers at MVPS completed, it was hands down the most mentioned learning moment. Seven out of the eleven students found some iteration of iProject to be particularly valuable in their learning journey. For most, this was valuable because of the real world lessons they taught themselves when they became responsible for taking control of their learning, such as time management and communicating with community members you’ve never met in person.

Another undeniable trend was the role that the Mount Vernon community played in fostering great learning. Even if not explicitly stated, most students mentioned how much they valued the unity our grade had and how it helped push and grow them as individuals.  One learner specifically said, “I think it’s so great that I have a place to come back to that I can call ‘home.”

I believe that this role of a family like community also contributed to why so many students also mentioned theater, sports, debate, band, or some sort of extracurricular club. Communicating and working with teams is something that everyone seemed to really value, and I think the reasoning is pretty simple, “It’s cool to see everyone getting behind a common idea.” Not all learning moments need to seem grand and life-changing, but there is no questioning that learning patience and teamwork are very valuable skills in life.

On the flip side, some moments can be very memorable in a grand sort of way, but maybe not have the clearest learning outcomes. Almost everyone mentioned at least one time during high school where they traveled somewhere with friends. Whether this be a lake weekend or a trip to France, it’s not surprising that traveling is memorable. However, most students couldn’t provide as clear of a “this is what I learned from this experience” antidote with their traveling memories compared to other experiences, though learning about your peers is definitely a valuable lesson in my opinion.

In terms of the last major trend, I noticed that a significant number of people had listed something that involved helping others. Service proved to be a powerful way to engage students, as many mentioned activities from helping other students with classwork to partnering with a nonprofit.

Beyond some of those major trends, there were some little assignments that I noticed were important to multiple people. Research papers from sophomore year, the Mongols debate, and reading Madea were all classroom activities that appeared more than once. What was notable about what people learned from these activities was how one activity could have such a different take away for different students. From one perspective the Mongol debate was an example of the benefits of teamwork and preparation, while from another the debate represented a time when people were in fierce competition to the point of being mean. When thinking about why these three activities might have stood out amongst all of the assignments we had in high school, I found this comment to be particularly interesting in reference to the research paper specifically, but I think it applies to all of these assignments: “Realistic to the real world, but also just good practice in research and analysing stuff for ourselves that our teachers weren’t already ‘masters’ in that subject area (we had stuff to learn they didn’t know already.)”

Trends in Skills

Trends in skills refer to skills that students specifically talked about learning that have been significantly helpful to them. My new hypothesis is that perhaps activities, despite what they are, if they can help students attain these skills, can be worthwhile memorable learning moments. This is not a comprehensive list by no means, but these are skills that stood out in particular to the students I surveyed. In theory, these skills have clear steps or practices that can help one attain mastery in the given skill.

Top Noted Skills :

(In no particular order)

  • Public speaking: including how “it’s important and helpful to know how to bs your way through some things”
  • How to send a professional email
  • How to see an argument from different perspectives
  • Formal writing
  • Time management/scheduling
  • Organization
  • Maker skills (such as: CAD, 3D printing, designing, and developing stickers, etc.) some maker skills have more practical specific uses than others, but as one student noted, learning how to make stickers can be worthwhile because it reminds you, “to have fun along the way, because learning should be fun.”

Trends in Ideas/Concepts

Unlike skills, ideas/concepts are trends that I noticed students discussing in their reflections on why events were memorable, but they aren’t the kind of knowledge one can attain “mastery” in like how you could with a skill. Similarly to skills, I imagine that if these ideas/concepts were important enough for multiple students to acknowledge them in these reflections, then they may be topics worth purposefully making sure students get exposure to during high school.

Top noted Ideas/Concepts:

(In no particular order)

  • Controversy/Competition: while contemplating right vs wrong and different perspectives students learned things such as how, “Real heroes are flawed, the scale of goodness doesn’t operate on a binary 0% or 100% scale.” “Sometimes big controversies can lead to great things.” “Some people, regardless of evidence, will never change their opinions.”
  • Age equal Skill: students gain confidence when making the discovery that teachers don’t know everything, and even young learners can be experts at times; “I even got to teach some chief engineers about CAD; I have never felt smarter!” “… sometimes your teacher isn’t great at their job and you have to teach yourself and learn with your classmates to keep up.”
  • Trust in a Mentor: “I am capable of doing great things as long as I set my mind on them and have someone that believes in me”
  • Find/Share Your Voice: “Staying silent only boosts the presently flawed power structure.” “Speak up and challenge the status quo, even if that means questioning those in a position of authority.” “Tell your truth in all its tainted glory, you have the right to.”
  • #FailUp- Mistakes and Values: high school is about learning about yourself, and what better way than by making mistakes, a significant number of students all mentioned on their list at least one time they made a mistake and “failed” from it, but learned a good deal from it; “I was trying to figure myself, and with each mistake I made, I kind of figured myself out more and more.” “Life keeps moving forward, so you can’t sit in the past and dwell for too long.”
  • Grit: several students mentioned applications, jobs, internships, or long projects and how they learned from these experiences how to work hard to make something happen despite the obstacles: “Devote yourself even more to a goal that you are striving for, even if you get turned down along the way; if it means a lot to you, keep going.”
  • Learning can be Fun: (I was personally happy to see that many students came to this conclusion at some point during high school, though I imagine this isn’t the case for all sadly.) “Every Latin class ever helped me learn to appreciate school.” “Learn things you are interested in” “really fun time” “super unique and cool”

Final Thoughts

There was no assignment or “reason” for me to write this post beyond me just being curious, but I’m glad I did because it reminded me of a lot of lessons I appreciate learning over the years.

My initial wonder stemmed from being curious about if schools really place emphasis on the learning moments that later in life become most valuable; thus I first wanted to figure out what those “valuable learning moments” are based on the opinion of students.

Through this process, it’s become even more apparent to me that you can never know exactly what lessons people will take away from different activities. I was pleasantly surprised that the lessons and skills that students seemed to learn actually align with what I hope schools should be teaching students. The fact that students acknowledged these lessons proves that I was correct in thinking that they are in fact valuable lessons to learn in high school for preparation for college and beyond.

I do still wonder though about the hundreds of other assignments and experiences that did not make these lists. How should we value those assignments?

Students over the years always manage to learn the valuable lessons in some capacity. But what I wonder is how as a society we can show that we value the learning of these lessons and skills more than just the number grade you get on the assignment itself.

As I said in the beginning, my primary purpose of this post was just to share my findings of what lessons students found to be most memorable and valuable from high school. While I’m not yet sure what will happen next, I’m glad to have some more clear data on what those lessons we should be striving to teach in education might look like.

Trailblazers Issue 2

What better way to kick off the new year than with another issue of Trailblazers, the student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement! Hear from a new group of passionate learners about how they’re getting involved with the movement as we continue on our journey to provide student voices into the world of education with this second issue.

The End of Normal

My “normal” has officially forever changed ever since graduation. While I don’t think life is ever in a state of complete normalcy, because people aren’t normal and everyday is a new day full of new adventures, there is no denying that a lot of things stay constant in our lives for given periods of time. My semi-normal was living at home, going to Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, seeing my friends, doing a ton of theater, working at the gym, performing acro routines, playing the occasional soccer game with my rec team, etc. This semi-normal no longer exists.
After Italy I didn’t go home back to “normal life.” I woke up in New York City and got on a plane to Vermont to visit Zeno Mountain Farms, a collection of friends with diverse needs, where I went to camp for a week and got to be in a movie; that’s not normal. And now (well while I’m writing this even though I won’t have internet to send it until I’m back in NYC), I’m at Capon Springs, our family reunion place in West Virginia that is essentially Dirty Dancing without the dancing (or the dirty as someone also felt we should clarify on our teen hayride last night).
While Capon is kind of normal because we go every summer, it isn’t like the rest of the year because we get to just chill and run around with friends playing badminton and shuffle board and ultimate frisbee and really whatever we want without phone connection and limited internet. Plus I continue to travel after this. Next I’ll be in NYC and then Ohio before returning home for a weekend before orientation and then my first year retreat and trip to Scotland with the other Stamps Presidential Scholars at Georgia Tech. Then we get back and only have a day before I move into my college dorm and my life is forever different, cus college…
It’s just so crazy to think that everything I once considered to be normal life is never fully going to exist again. I will be attending a different school with different some friends, and new activities, and living in a new place all together. And that will continue to be slightly weird until one day I wake up and realize that this new life is my new normal.
Obviously not everything will change, and with being only about 20 minutes from my house, honestly less will probably change than the normal college student; however, it is just weird that it finally hit me that it’s officially the end of normal.
And while all of this traveling has been quite fun, it’s also a little scary to think about how much is going to change all at once, because unlike a lot of other recent graduates I know, I wasn’t as super ready to “escape” as some said. But it doesn’t really matter if I’m ready or not, because now it’s just time to live in the present and adjust to this new normal that’s out there, even if, like this summer, one day that normal becomes constant change. Change in my opinion isn’t always good or always bad, but it is ever present and full of new opportunities.
So good bye normal. It was nice knowing you.

Trailblazers- Student Driven EdMagazine

It’s official, the first edition of Trailblazers, a student driven magazine on the Education Transformation Movement, is here with young writers from around the world contributing!!!! My peers in the Innovation Diploma, Abigail Emerson and Kaylyn Winters, and I have been working at this project all year after some last minute edits over the summer, we now feel it is time to ship the idea and get it out into the world.

So please check out our first edition which includes:

A Letter From the Founders

Meet the Curators: Anya Smith-Roman, Kaylyn Winters, Abigail Emerson

The learner-centered movement: Q&A: Sparkhouse Conference

Creating Something New: Brady Vincent

Change is a Conversation: Neel Pujar

Free Ranged vs. Caged: Kim Mi Yeoh

Intelligence: Cali Ragland

Community Connections

Good Reads

 

Thanks to everyone who helped make this possible!! Can’t wait for issue 2!

What I Learned From the Class of 2017

 

It’s officially been a little over a week since I graduated high school and it’s still just barely sinking in for me. It probably doesn’t help that I haven’t actually gone an entire week without being at the school. Between picking up my siblings and attending meetings for various Innovation Diploma projects that I haven’t stoped even though I have the diploma now- still not use to saying that- I’ve kept myself busy around MVPS.

However, even though I can’t quite imagine it yet, I know that next year I won’t be waking up in my room on the first day of school and heading back to MVPS to see all of my same friends and teachers. And going through old pictures for my mom while at the lake this weekend has gotten me reminiscent of all of the great times I’ve had over the years with some amazing people.

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(The 7 members of the GT Squad! Go Yellow Jackets!!!)

On more than one occasion the class of 2017 has been called the “greatest class yet,” as I’m sure all of the years before us have been told. Despite whether or not our class really will be harder to beat than the years before us, I believe that there is something “great” about our class and I’ve been trying to figure out just what that is and I haven’t been able to narrow it down to one thing. So I wanted to share the top 5 things that I’ve been most grateful to learn from the class of 2017:

  1. Motivation from Healthy Competition
  2. Collaboration is a Necessity of Life 
  3. How to Dream Big and Make Dreams Come True 
  4. Question Everything and Ask for Help 
  5. The Importance of Giving Back 

1. Motivation from Healthy Competition

Any teacher who has ever taught the class of 2017 knows that we have always been a highly competitive class. It’s not particularly “normal” for a group of students to turn a simple history debate project into a full blown mock trial complete with costumes and an audience of students and teachers from other classes, but this Mongol trial is still one of my personal favorite projects to talk about because the competitive nature we had made the project more enjoyable and helped me better learn the material. We’ve even called ourselves the Mongol Grade because we learned to love that period of history so much and believe we are often “the exception” to many school norms.IMG_1875.JPG

While this kind of competition has undoubtedly caused some tension at times, healthy competition has helped make learning fun for me over the years. My peers have pushed me to work harder and strive to do my personal best. I’m never going to lie and say that I have found 100% of my schooling thus far to always be fun and engaging- I may be an odd nerdy kid who enjoys learning but school has yet to get to that great a level even for me yet- however, when I wasn’t the most engaged, having my peers pushing me helped make school more enjoyable for me.

2. Collaboration is a Necessity of Life

While competition has helped me try my personal hardest in school, collaboration is what allowed me to do constantly improve “my best.” The class of 2017 has been more than just a group of students working to get through k-12, we’ve been a family to one another. I remember when Google Docs first started to take off as a classroom tool, our grade took full advantage of the sharing capabilities. Back when everyone took pretty much the same classes, we would create study guides that practically the entire grade would help collaborate on in order to prepare for assessments. Our opinion was that everyone would have to study the same stuff, so if we all worked together to compile the information, it would make everyone’s life easier- and it did!CrDzAPtVYAAIVCE.jpg

This collaborative nature is evident not just in our school work, but also how we’ve bonded as a grade. During our Baccalaureate one of the speakers mentioned how there is no clear divide between “jocks” or “nerds” or “actors” etc, and that’s because everyone tends to get along with each other and help each other out. Members of other grades have often said that they were jealous of how close our grade has bonded over the years. This year we even maintained a group chat with the entire grade on it all year without anyone just spamming it into oblivion, which is an impressive feat for that large of a group of teenagers. It’s because of this kind of bonding that I know the class of 2017 will always be my family and though we may be moving far away from each other, I can count on these people to be there if I really need them.

3. How to Dream Big and Make Dreams Come True

I’ve had some pretty crazy ideas over the years, and while some people may be tempted to just say “Well that’ll never happen,” my peers have always been supportive to help make my crazy ideas into reality. For example, since freshman year I had been talking about how cool it would be to write an original show, and everyone always said it would be hard and take a lot of time, but no one ever said it was impossible to make happen. Sure enough, while freshman year might not have been the right time, I graduated having helped to write, direct, and perform an original show which wouldn’t have been possible if the idea wasn’t encouraged even back when I was just an ambitious, semi-clueless freshman.IMG_7671

This kind of positive spirit just makes life more enjoyable, and sure enough, we’ve been able to pull of some incredible things because of this “can do” attitude! The first step to doing the impossible is to dream of the impossible, which is truly impossible to do without supportive people by your side letting you know that anything is possible if you try hard enough. The class of 2017 has truly taught me to never let go of the childhood nature of dreaming like anything is possible, and that’s why we’ve been able to accomplish so many amazing things that get talked about as part of what makes us “great.”

4. Question Everything and Ask for Help 

The world is changing every single day and changes don’t happen without something first being questioned. Even schools are finally changing because of the people that are unafraid to question the norm. The class of 2017 is constantly questioning the norm and that’s why our class has been a part of making so many changes happen at our school. Members of our class participated in the first Council on Innovation where the Innovation Diploma started to further take shape. Members of our class were the ones to pioneer founding a student designed AP course. Member of our class helped prototype the maker space on campus. And I’m sure there are a number of other things that not only am I not mentioning, but somethings I probably don’t even know about that members of our class helped play an important role in.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 11.52.08 PM.png

Furthermore, we know that when you have a lot of questions about life, you need good mentors to ask your questions to. I’ve truly learned how important it is to not just ask questions, but to find someone who really is good at listening to questions. I have formed some incredible bonds with some of my teachers and peers whom I’ve had the privilege of calling mentors to me over the course of my years in high school, and I know others can say the same. I’ve learned when in life you truly just need to ask for help and thankfully I’ve found people that know how to listen and give advice, with the understanding that when they need advice, I can be that ear for them to rant to. Part of what I love about the class of 2017 is that we aren’t afraid of sharing the stuff that’s hard to talk about and it’s allowed us to form bonds with each other as well as people all around the school that will last long beyond the past 4 years; this is a big part of why I’ll miss my years of high school so much, and I imagine it’s a big part of why other students and teachers say they will miss us.

5. The Importance of Giving Back 

Last but not least, I’m so grateful that the class of 2017 has taught me how to really show how much people have meant to us. I can’t even count the number of times we have thrown parties for various teachers for birthdays, holidays, and farewells. We’ve gotten the nickname of “the stalker grade” over the years because we care enough to do some deep digging to figure out just the right gifts for people. Whether that means a video of pictures and an original song, a homemade grandmother’s recipe birthday cake, a signed copy of a favorite book, a video of a play we saw in France, a custom ordered hand sticked college bag, or a framed collage of inside jokes in the form of stickers, we have managed to put together some pretty great gifts for teachers where a bunch of us chip in to make it happen. I can confidently say they’ve been great because of the expressions on our teachers faces when they realize what we’ve done and it’s always wonderful to see someone you appreciate so much completely filled of joy.IMG_7509.jpg

Even our senior prank was so fitting of our grade because we were a tad annoying while also helping the community. We bought close to 300 cans at least and used them to block off the front entrances to the building, so while it was hard to get into the building that one day, our school went on to beat the all time record for the amount of cans donated to the Community Action Center by the end of the can food drive week. The class of 2017 has taught me how important it is to thank those that have meant a lot to you, and that’s why I never think I’ll be able to thank the class of 2017 enough for everything they’ve taught and done for me.

Thank you class of 2017 for being the greatest class a girl could ask to graduate with! You have all taught me so much, and while our time together may have come to a close, memories last a life time and I will never forget all we have learned together.

 

(And now for some of my favorite photos of high school…)

The Unpaved Path

C_egitqXkAAEVE4In two days I graduate…. That’s crazy. I’m a very nostalgic person, and, therefore, I have been doing a lot of reminiscing by reading old blog posts, emails, and in general having conversations with friends about the past four years of our lives. So when we decided that we wanted our ID seniors to give MoVe Talks to the younger cohorts and some admin as a way to share our parting advice, it didn’t take long for me to come up with the story I wanted to share.

Towards the end of sophomore year I wrote a blog post reflecting on some of my favorite memories of freshman year. In this post I questioned the idea of students walking on an already paved path, well this thought has now come full circle as I’ve learned through my work in the Innovation Diploma that the path unpaved is a path worth taking.

Below is the script I used for my MoVe Talk which is as close as I have to the exact words I used to attempt to impart this idea on to the younger cohorts.

“I could list a ton of things I learned from these experiences, but the grades don’t matter a smidge  to me (most of them didn’t even have real grades, but I still learned and enjoyed the moments enormously.) These stories I shared were all moments were I had incredible joy and also felt incredibly proud of my work because I took part in the creation of the end product and felt connected to the outcome; a teacher hadn’t predesigned what would come from the experience.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense; if the teachers already have the path paved for the students, how will they ever learn to make their own path? “- Paving a Path; The Life of Pinya

Before I begin, I want everyone to close your eyes and imagine standing on a path in a forest. There is gravel and some large rocks, and it’s evident that people have walked this trail before. From where you stand you can clearly see the end of the trail.

Now turn to your left and right. There are trees everywhere and some flowers growing on the ground. There is no paved path in this part of the forest, but the unusual flowers and glimpses of multicolored light shining through the trees are intriguing. If you are pursuing innovative education practices, then you are in this unknown part of the forest and are pioneering a trail on the unpaved path.

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This is me back in middle school, and today I want to tell the story of how I got from there (point to screen) to here (tada) because I’ve taken a fairly unusual path.

Back in 8th grade when this picture was taken, I was honestly pretty much your stereotypical try hard, nerdy, rule following student. In fact I won the award for highest gpa at the end of the year. I say this not because I feel like this award was all that important or because I want to brag about myself- I mean, it’s middle school let’s be real all of that is trivial in that regard- but I say this so hopefully you can better understand where I was coming from when going into high school.

My understanding of a successful student was someone who made all As, got a few awards, and then eventually got into a good college with scholarship money, and if you could become Valedictorian then you were really set for life.

At this point in my life, I was playing the game of school well and thusly believed I was on this path to success, and I was perfectly content with just that.

It wasn’t until freshman year that I started to believe that maybe there could be more to school.

Big History.pngNow some of you may recognize this picture because it’s a picture from the moment I describe as my clicking moment. The moment where I realized success in school could be so much more than just good grades, and realized that school needs to change in order to meet these new standards of success.

After participating in the 2013 Council on Innovation, I learned that I as a freshman had the ability to give advice and pitch ideas to community leaders that they actually valued. That was huge and stuck with me into my classes. In particular, freshman world history.

Here is where I believe my unusual journey begins.

Everyone in the grade had been tasked with the assignment of creating a project about whatever we wanted and would then present for 5-10 minutes anyway we choose fit. I had chosen a topic, but after a few days of working on the assignment I was getting frustrated because I didn’t want to just give a presentation of facts that anyone could easily look up online for themselves if they really wanted to know about it.

I talked to my teacher and after a few more days we agreed I needed a new topic, so instead we had the idea for me to present a project on “hmw redesign projects?”

C_jWuzOXYAAtNSR.jpgLong story short, I took this 5-10 minute project and turned it into a 45 minute lecture complete with a slide deck, prototypes, and 3 videographers.

This wasn’t the “normal” thing to do for my ideal path to success, which just made me even more incredibly nervous that no one would like it and it all would have been a huge waste of time and I would just fail the entire project. And I couldn’t tell you now what grade I made on that assignment, but I can say that it ended up being one of the most empowering and fulfilling experiences of my high school career which meant more to me than any grade in that moment.

This all started with me questioning a teacher’s assignment. Now I’m not saying you should go off telling all of your teachers that you could make a better assignment than them, but I do believe one of the most important things I’ve learned is that you should never be afraid to ask a mentor for guidance if you feel like you have feedback that could help improve your school experience. Nothing will change that isn’t first questioned.C_jWuz8XYAAhWUT

As you can imagine, my path to graduation only got more unusual as I got older. For starters, I joined ID– a new vague program that promised to help nurture students into innovators. I jumped at the opportunity, but not everyone was quite as on board with the latest edition of Mount Vernon’s attempts to instill the mindsets in us.

To be honest, probably the hardest part of deciding to take an usual path was the social struggles I faced due to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you in here, especially the IDers who have been around for a little now, have at some point in time heard negative comments about ID, and maybe even felt like you were being offended because you are involved in the program. I know I did especially since I was around back during the dark ages when we really didn’t have much to show for ourselves and people tend to be skeptical of ideas without a proof of concept.

2014-09-12 14.49.57And this social tension around my path to graduation only grew when I got to junior year and made what many people believed to be an incredibly unusual decision for myself: I didn’t take all APs. (hu!!)

It is my belief that AP history courses are often trying to cover too much information in not enough time, and the content is a lot of reading and memorizing, and the writing is very dry and the AP doesn’t even require everything to be factual to get full credit. Thus I decided I would not take AP History because I didn’t feel interested in that kind of learning and would rather give myself more time to devote to attending education conferences, and working with community leaders, and talking to interested families about ID, and writing articles for magazines about education transformation, and all sorts of other projects that were truly meaningful to me because they beneficially impacted others.

However, this decision was still incredibly difficult for me because to me it symbolized taking myself out of the game.

Let me remind you that my vision of success basically meant the path to becoming valedictorian. Going into and early on in high school I truly thought that was what I wanted. But as many of you know, the class of 2017 is incredibly competitive when it comes to playing the traditional school game of grades, so by choosing to not take all APs, this also meant choosing to not be able to have as high of a GPA as my peers, and therefore I knew I would not be valedictorian despite originally being on this path if I made this choice.

DAH2mT5XsAAKMKvPeople, including some of my best friends, would tell me this was a bad idea for all sorts of reasons. They would say that I was too smart to not take all APs, or they would say that they didn’t get why I would take myself out of the running for val, or they would say that I was taking the easy option and I’d be less competitive to colleges, etc. etc.

And despite whether or not you are in the position to be the potential val of your grade, to some extent we can all relate to this struggle of wanting to maintain a good gpa for college and what not, but also wanting the time to work on things other than just grades.

I didn’t let the opinions of others influence me too much, and I’ve been very satisfied with my decision to drop AP History courses. And in general I have always loved and appreciated all of the opportunities I’ve had through ID, but I’m not gonna lie that I was often still nervous about what colleges would think of everything I’ve done because the scariest part about taking your own unpaved path is that you can’t possibly know how others will react to it.

How would they view a kid who didn’t take as many AP courses as others, who joined a new program with only two other graduates, who co-created her own non-traditional AP Lang class, and who took an independent study instead of the traditional economics course amongst other things?

But now I’m on the other side and I believe I’ve exceeded my original vision of a successful student.

I…

  • Presented a MoVe Talk in front of over a hundred educators
  • Facilitated hundreds through design thinking Flashlabs
  • Participated in a week long experience with the Stanford d.School#fuse15 MoVe Talk.jpg
  • written 611 blog posts in not even 3 years, and created a network of over 250 people
  • Co-created and attended the first ever AP Course (approved by the College Board and the admin of our school) with a syllabus created by teenagers
  • been commissioned to write a number of magazine articles and guest on two podcasts about education transformation
  • Worked with the Center for Disease Control and the mayor of Sandy Springs
  • Co-led sessions at faculty meetings on “day’s off”
  • Pitched business ideas in a 3-Day Startup Program
  • Re-designed a classroom into an innovation studio
  • Changed the way 23 freshman experienced World History by forming the Design Team
  • and many more…

And now I am about to graduate with two diplomas which means not only can I say that I had all of these incredibly unique and fulfilling experiences, but I also believe I’ve achieved many of the “traditional school goals” as well.

I have had all As throughout high school, will be attending a well respected school (Yup it’s official go Yellow Jackets because I’ll be at Georgia Tech next year!!), got into a selective honors program, and even got a full ride scholarship!

Again my point to all of this isn’t to brag about myself, but for years when I talk about all of the innovative work we’ve been doing in ID in order to transform the “norm” about education, people have been asking me “Well where’s the evidence that this works? How do colleges and the ‘real world’ respond to this kind of thing?”

WScreen Shot 2017-05-18 at 10.32.51 PM.pngell I’m proud to say that I- we- can finally answer them. Even after having two graduates last year, it didn’t seem like enough of a statistic. But we are now about to have 6 total graduates from the Innovation Diploma program who have been highly successful no matter how you look at it, and that to me is a huge win for all of us. We have always believed what we are doing is great, and every year even more believe it too.

I feel more than prepared for college because I feel like I’ve been exposed to the real world all ready due to the choices I made to put faith in things that had never been done before.

So, I hope all of you remember that yes the path we educator pioneers tend to walk on that’s untraditional, unknown, un-”approved” can be scary because you don’t know how others will receive it, but don’t be afraid to question and take action about things you believe in because the chances are that others will believe in them too.

And even the unpaved path can be very successful in the school game if you work hard at whatever path you choose.  And if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself more empowered, fulfilled, and prepared for the next chapter of your life than you ever would have found possible without the Innovation Diploma.